Category Archives: All Things Digital

Facebookless

IMG_6448I spent the last week without logging into Facebook. To be fair, I kept the Facebook Messenger app on my phone, and messaged with a few people that way. But I removed the Facebook app from my phone, and didn’t log on via computer. Why did I do this, you might wonder? #becausetime

I will always remember the 2015-2016 academic school year as a time when I started missing emails consistently. It’s not for any lack of caring: anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve always been a fast responder. I care very deeply that people know that I’ve heard what they have to say! There are two differences that have created this problem for me this year: 1) I get more emails now than I ever did before, and 2) I have less time than I ever have before.

Thanks to some brilliant friends (who, in truth, I rely on for staying up to date with the latest gadgets and apps), I discovered unroll.me for automating and managing my gmail inbox. But I don’t feel that I can do the same for my work email. Perhaps I should look into it. Because I can’t keep up. It’s just too much!

So what did I discover during this week sans Facebook?

  1. It is possible to avoid thinking in Facebook updates. Earlier this semester, I revealed to a class of graduate students that I sometimes type out Facebook status updates in my head as I travel throughout the day. Sure that this (somewhat embarrassing) revelation would garner some laughs, I was surprised when the room remained quiet. Did I sound whacky for saying I typed things out in my head? Did I sound lame for admitting that I think about my Facebook updates as items worthy of composition? Did I just take a step backward on the respect spectrum for revealing something personal and unsolicited? Either way, I noticed the other day that I had long periods of silence in my head for the first time in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time.
  2. I create false narratives about my friends. I admit that normally, I walk around thinking that everyone’s life is a billion times better than mine, based on Facebook feeds. I know this is slightly ridiculous. I also know I’m not the only one who does it. But in the absence of the constant barrage of information that is my Facebook feed, I felt a sense of calm.
  3. I still had contact with friendsIn the last week, I’ve touched base and/or seen a few of my favorite people, and we’ve shared information via text, phone, or email. Without relying on Facebook for information about my friends, I was forced to be in touch with them — actually be in touch with them. I missed out on a bunch of news without my feed, I’m sure, and I didn’t speak to everyone I wanted to, but I also had some long phone and in-person conversations.
  4. I was focused. Usually when I’m at work, I keep a tab open for Facebook on my computer. I don’t look at it constantly, but when I take breaks, I look at my feed. This week when I took breaks from writing or grading, I did some of the back-logged office stuff I’ve been putting off: I filed a bunch of things, organized my documents, and labeled the book bins on my book shelves. I also read a book and wrote a book review. All in between the normal stuff I have to do.
  5. I started missing a stream in my life. Over the weekend, I attended a two-day conference hosted by SUNY New Paltz and Bard College, the Digital Spaces Unconference. We live-tweeted throughout, which got me looking at Twitter a bunch. A week since I started my Facebook diet, and I’m looking at my Twitter feed several times a day. It doesn’t feel the same, though. There’s something less personal about it. Maybe because I don’t know about half of the people I follow — they’re just people I’ve heard about or I met once and are doing cool #edtech stuff. I’ve been looking at Instagram more, too. But neither Twitter nor Instagram hold my interest like Facebook does. What is it about Facebook??

So the verdict is in: I can get a lot more done when I don’t look at Facebook. But is it worth missing what happens in people’s lives? I hope I can find a better balance, because I don’t want to be a total Facebook hermit — not to mention the academic things that I learn from my brilliant friends when plugged into my feed! But I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed having a few extra minutes in my days lately. What’s your secret? How do you strike a healthy balance between the stream and real life?

Privacy, Footprints, and Cyberbullying

I went dark for a few days earlier this summer — unsure of whether or not that was the right thing to do. Here was my dilemma:

It had come to my attention that my digital identity had been reworked and redistributed for an audience of people I barely know via manipulated screenshots, spliced email correspondences, and false representations of my words, politics, and intentions. As a colleague put it, I had officially been cyberbullied.

This isn’t the first time my identity has been stolen or manipulated, nor is it the first time it has caused unnecessary waves in my personal life. (And something tells me it won’t be the last.) But after considering my options (most of which would include drastically reducing my digital footprint), I concluded that I shouldn’t change anything about how I tweet, blog, or communicate. As an instructional technology educator, academic researcher of blogs, and fiber artist who relies heavily on digital media and communication to share my ideas and work, I can’t — and more importantly, shouldn’t — hide from cyberbullies/stalkers/harassers.

Alhough people who have been the target of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, or cyberharassment have little legal recourse (it turns out that very few states have laws in effect to address digital forms of harassment), I was glad to hear of landmark legislation that went into effect on July 1st. The Dignity for All Students Act addresses bullying and harassment at the K-12 level on school grounds in New York State, and is an important step in acknowledging the fact that bullying, stalking, harassment, and violations of privacy — whether digitally or in real-time — are not to be tolerated in any form.

Twitter, et. al.

I had lunch with a friend today who was is one of those people whose brain you want to pick: she’s brilliant, especially about the internet. She’s been on Twitter for almost as long as it’s been around, and our conversation at lunch got me thinking about my own history with the medium.

When it was initiated, I remember thinking Twitter was just another Facebook update, and that I certainly didn’t need another place to say more (I say plenty already). I remember wondering if there would ever be an end to updating. Clearly, no! Some networks will endure and others won’t, but for now, ‘updating’ those around you with your most recent thoughts, discoveries, questions, requests, etc., seems here to stay.

My relationship to Twitter today is not a consistent one. I tend to use it for knitting more than anything else, and I have two separate accounts to help me keep track of who I’m saying what to. My personal account is mostly used for questions and statements about education, and I used it a lot at demonstrations earlier this school year; I often look at it for updates and information, but tweet sporadically. I have a hard enough time keeping up with just email that there’s no chance of me becoming a regular on Twitter in the near future, but I’m fascinated by how it’s shifted the way we communicate and seek new knowledge.

I remember doing a mental list of all the social networking sites I was a part of a few years ago, and it wasn’t many: Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and I think that might have been it. Then, before too long, sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Google became networked for ‘updating’ via ratings, messages, likes, and comments, and I was suddenly a part of far more virtual networks than I ever thought possible. And then there’s Academia.edu, Reddit, Instagram, the CUNY Academic Commons, and so on. News is all interactive now — you can comment endlessly on just about any post or article. Even if we don’t participate in conversations online, people around us do, and we are a part of that dialogue whether we participate actively or not. It’s so different from how it used to be(!). I remember my mom would come home every day after school and read the newspaper. That’s never been part of my daily ritual (or at least not for a really long time). Is it awful that I get most of my news from links on Facebook and Twitter?

I think about the impact this has on education, considering that the internet promotes (both in concept and reality) collectivity, democracy, and symbiosis. Doesn’t that seem to go against the grain of the practice of striving to ‘be the best’ that so many of our classrooms foster? Hasn’t the internet taught us that we rely on each other, and therefore have to work together? There’s something about the idea of networking and how it’s transformed our society that’s got me thinking today, and wondering about what comes next.

iPad Plunge

My journals from my first years of teaching will have to wait again, because I took the plunge and bought an iPad. I’m eager to write about it. Aside from there being something about touchscreen technology that makes me feel like I just stepped off of the Star Trek set (in a, you know, modern, hip kind of way), having an iPad has already changed my relationship to books. It’s too early to tell just how, but I’ve got my finger on the pulse.

The purchase was precipitated by several things: 1) the few friends and colleagues who have them talk about them non-stop, 2) as an educator, it’s about time I figure out how to use an e-reader, 3) there’s something very exciting happening with Apple technology right now that I don’t want to miss out on, and 4) I want to play around with making my own books, something that iBooks Author lets you do. The latter was, for now, the biggest pull — I wrote a post about digital dissertations earlier in the life of this blog, and have been thinking about my question ever since — is there a format that allows for a creative, digital way of displaying a dissertation? iBooks Author says yes. There are plenty of proprietary issues that I don’t want to get into in this post, but in the short-term, I’m intrigued.

But my initial question about the iPad was, what’s the best method for digital annotation? So I did a little ‘research,’ asked around, and ended up downloading a few apps to test out — PDFReaderLite, iAnnotate, and GoodReader. Here’s what I found out.

iBooks: Although you can annotate e-books in this app, annotating PDFs is impossible. To quote a friend, “avoid iBooks like the plague except for pleasure reading.”

PDFReaderLite: I don’t recommend this app for research purposes, as it mirrors how PDFs work in iBooks — you can only read them.

iAnnotate: I can see why people like this app: it allows a number of functions that come digitally close to simulating what it’s like to sit down with a highlighter or pencil and some reading — something I was in search of. You can make notes, highlight, type on top of the text (a function I was hoping to find in my search), and annotations are automatically saved.

GoodReader: this app is pretty similar to iAnnotate — the only major thing I found that distinguishes it is the option to save an annotated copy before you start marking up the original. As a researcher working with dynamic content, I really appreciate this. And in tandem with Dropbox, I think GoodReader might be the answer to my annotation woes. (Note: Not to be confused with Goodreads!).

ASDF ;LKJ

If I took typewriting as a class in high school, it didn’t stick. I remember spending hours in front of my Commodore 64 at home, waiting for the blinking cursor to appear, indicating it was time to start typing what appeared on the screen. It was a fun game, but I lost interest quickly. I guess learning to type is kind of like learning a language–if you don’t use it, you lose it. Since I had little cause to type outside of final papers for English class in high school, I  still used the hunt-and-peck method on my mother’s typewriter until I got to college, at which point it was clear that learning how to type would be a necessity. Computers–not Commodores–seemed to appear everywhere I looked on campus, and I refused to be that girl in the computer lab. Everyone seemed to have learned how to type in high school, so I just stopped looking at the keyboard. It took a few months, but I eventually learned how to type. What did other people do? What do people do today? Are skills taught for typing on cell phones? Will there be instruction for iPads and other touch-screen devices?

When I started teaching elementary school in 2001, there was a lot of talk about handwriting and how it wasn’t being taught anymore. Indeed, I remember spending hours carefully tracing the cursive alphabet over and over again in the first grade. But we didn’t have enough time in the day to teach something that was clearly becoming obsolete with the surge in digital communication that began with the start of the internet. At the time, the authorization of No Child Left Behind ignited a nationwide panic about test scores, and every extra minute in the day was devoted to test-taking. Neither keyboard skills nor handwriting were taught as part of the curriculum in our school. Now that computers are part of everyday life for so many people, I wonder if keyboard/typing skills are taught, and if so, at what grade level. Are there national standards attached to these skills?

I recently purchased a typewriter (made by Packard, before they were joined by Hewlett), and took it out this morning in an attempt to figure out what to get from Staples to make it work again (I was told, hopefully accurately, that there are really only a few types of typewriter ribbons). I was struck by how beautiful it is, and how odd, set on the table next to a MacBook. There’s a story to be told about these machines that isn’t finished yet, and I wonder how touch screens will continue to catalyze whatever iteration of the keyboard comes next.

iPad State of Mind

In a little less than an hour, at 10am ET, Apple plans to make an education-related announcement, and I’m not gonna lie: I’m excited to hear what’s on deck. There’s been speculation on blogs and such about what will be revealed, and in particular, what the role of the iPad will be. I have a lot of thoughts on iPads and e-readers (you can get a better sense for that thinking here if you’re interested) — especially how they fracture (in a good way, I think) how we think about time/space/communication/learning/teaching, etc. I snapped this picture during one of the initial protests of the Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park back in September, and keep thinking about it.

As I shot the photo, I was participating in a protest while watching the same protest on a device as it unfolded. What does that do for a learner, the act of participating-while-observing? What benefits are there to being able to participate in something in real time while also capturing it for, ostensibly, future learning, on a device that doubles as a book (among many other things)? How will note-taking and field trips evolve into non-linear projects that no longer involve notebooks and pencils or being in one place at one time?

Before I start asking more questions, I have to run to a meeting. But I wanted to start this strand of thinking and hopefully pick it up again later. I have a feeling 2012 — and today’s announcement in particular — is going to shape much of what is to come in digital education. It’s unclear as of yet how that innovation will change education in schools that don’t have enough dollars, period, but I’m hopeful that as the excitement builds around possibility that this dilemma is also considered.

Inboxes and Hashtags

Up early(ish) on the first day since August that I’ve had to really breathe for a minute, and I can’t stop thinking about finding a better way to categorize my email. Gmail makes it relatively easy to organize messages like you might papers in a file cabinet, but I’m suddenly 200 unread messages in, and find myself unable to keep up. I realize everyone will meet (or already has met) their email saturation point differently, but I will always remember the Fall 2011 semester as the time when two things happened when it comes to digital communication: 1) I couldn’t keep up with my email for the first time, and 2) hashtags became commonspeak.

INBOXES: When it comes to email, I’ve always been an immediate responder. This habit has its plusses and minuses, but it’s just the way I operate: someone asks something of me, and I respond. In contrast, I never could understand, until very recently, how people could leave correspondences unanswered. I finally get it, and find myself missing emails from friends and colleagues. I fear the problem is only going to get worse if I don’t find a better way of getting to every correspondence that needs getting to.

I don’t think I’m an expert organizer in any way shape or form, but I am pretty anal retentive and love organizing and reorganizing things — if I’m at a loss for what to do to combat this problem, what are other people doing? Is it one of those things that’s happening to everyone but no one really talks about? Am I just relegated to a future of not being able to fully read every email that comes through my inbox? I don’t like that.

I’ll report back if I figure something out, but for now I want to talk about hashtags for a second.

HASHTAGS: There was a point roughly a year ago when the word hashtag wasn’t yet part of my vocabulary. I haven’t done any extensive reading or empirical data gathering about how my experience measures up to that of the general population, but until I joined Twitter (a little less than a year ago), the # symbol was something I used when proofreading to note that a space needed to be inserted, or while navigating an automated phone messaging system. It was not on my radar as a categorizer, and I hadn’t yet seen it used in titles, subject lines, or emails. In an attempt to further understand what was then an elusive phenomenon, I asked the Twitter community for help in my third-ever tweet on February 20, 2011:

Needless to say, I got no response about my confusion, and quickly realized that the hashtag is one of those neat reference tools that has a limited shelf life. It’s not something that you send out to the universe and get an answer from immediately; rather, it can be used in a fleeting moment to connect people around a specific subject/idea/question/concept, but it might not always work as you intend it.

As I see it, the # sign has become something that’s going to continue to evolve as more people become fluent in how to use it. We’re getting closer to that tipping point, but it seems that many individuals still see Twitter as a revolving door of narcissistic Facebook updates, and thus the new(ish) usage of the # as an extension of that. I couldn’t disagree more. While I don’t tweet on a daily basis, Twitter has been a useful tool for me when trying to stay up-to-date on events, protests, gatherings, teaching techniques, etc., in real time. And speaking of protests, the Occupy movement is part of what normalized hashtags for me.

While I was pulling my hair out over my overflowing inbox this semester, my colleagues and I started using #OWS and other hashtags as normally as we might other words in emails. Slowly but surely, the # symbol is making its way into our daily language.

So while I’m considering how to categorize and code my growing pile of data for my dissertation, and simultaneously trying to get a handle on my inbox, I can’t help but wonder about where digital communication will take us. What symbol will enter our language next? Will we eventually have an alphabet comprised of letters, numbers, and symbols? I’m curious….

Don Giovanni and an App for Binoculars

Last night, I had the privilege of going to the opera for the first time.  As the opening bars of Mozart’s famous opera, Don Giovanni, began, I resisted the urge to hum along, and found myself tearing up before the curtain was drawn.  I have long wanted to go to the opera, but for a variety of logistical reasons had, up until last night, not been; gratefully, I had the opportunity to attend with students and Zoe Sheehan-Saldana, one of the professors I’m working with at Baruch College this semester.  After the performance, I told Zoe that despite having gone into my freshman fall wanting to emerge four years later ready for astronaut training, I ended up taking a bunch of art, theater, and philosophy classes that first semester, including “The History of Opera,” and never looked back.  I’ve always been a classical music buff — I remember being just as happy rocking out to Mozart’s famous clarinet concerto as I was to the latest New Kids on the Block album, and at some point in high school acquired my first opera music on CD from Santa.

The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended Interlochen Arts Camp, an eight-week intensive camp that I’d heard about from neighbors who went every summer.  I drooled over the idea of spending eight weeks in the woods of Michigan’s upper peninsula, playing my clarinet three times a day and taking fiber art classes.  Speaking of fiber art, it would be the first and last time I took an art class that put a name on what I did with yarn and string in my free time — fiber art.  But I digress.  I mention Interlochen because it laid the groundwork for my artistic and creative interests that would follow, albeit unconventionally.

I admit I wasn’t the best college student.  There were a variety of reasons for this at the time, and if I could do it over again I probably would, but looking back, I recall attending every class meeting for “The History of Opera” and spending hours in the listening lab, taking in (through my ears anyway) opera after opera.  My relationship to music is much like my relationship to books — with books, I remember the appearance, not the title or author; with music, I remember the sound, not the title or composer.  Last night was no exception: unable to name the arias or ensembles, the memory of those unmistakable runs, chords, and melodies jumped to the surface of my mind, and I was right back in that old, gothic lecture hall, learning about Don Giovanni and his wily ways.  My learning chord had been struck, for lack of a better analogy…

Sitting through the three-and-a-half-hour performance felt like a dream.  While the music was familiar in my ears, the experience was not.  Seated way up in the nosebleeds, I regretted not thinking to bring my grandfather’s binoculars.  Granted, they’re enormous and not appropriate for opera viewing, but still, the thought made me think about how out-0f-the-loop I am with fully understanding this genre of music I’ve been carrying around in my ears and head for years.

I wondered through the second half (as the action heightened and I found myself wishing I could be closer) if there was an iPhone app for binoculars.  Indeed, there is.  There are a few, but the one I tried out is called “Awesome Binoculars,” costs $0.99, and sadly, is less than impressive (the image to the right isn’t the best illustration of just how not-that-useful this app is, but you get the idea — it’s a lot like the mirror app, which is not at all like a mirror).  As in love with my iPhone as I am, sometimes, little discoveries like this make me smile: it comforts me to think we haven’t gotten it all figured out yet!  And what if this app did work??  Would it then be kosher to pull out your iPhone throughout an opera performance?  I can’t quite imagine.  And then again, I couldn’t imagine in 2001, when cell phones were forbidden to be used in classrooms (by teachers or students) that they would someday be used pedagogically as extensively as they are today.

Unrelated (but as you are starting to see, with me everything’s related!): I spent most of last Sunday knitting warm things for Occupy Wall Street protesters, and will be returning for a few hours this Sunday.  If you’re interested, please visit the Blankets for Zuccotti Park protesters group on Facebook for more information.

My First Screencast

I made a screencast the other day on creating podcasts with GarageBand as part of my work as an Instructional Technology Fellow at the CUNY Macaulay Honors College. It occurred to me that as I learn new skills and create tutorials on various instructional technology topics that it might be helpful to colleagues at all instructional levels if I posted them on Mediated. So here is my first attempt. Podcasts have a variety of uses in the classroom, and if you’re interested in quickly learning how to create one with images using GarageBand, you can view my screencast here:

Stay tuned for more tips that might be helpful for conducting research, teaching, and living in a rapidly changing world. In the meantime, feel free to suggest topics for future tutorials.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

As I get my feet wet with this public-blogging thing (intentionally public, anyway–this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged publicly, but it’s the first time I’ve done so while trying to capture the attention of a specific audience and string a common thread through my posts), there is a growing pile (digital and otherwise) of things to think and write about. I find that I am accumulating post topics at a much higher frequency than I have time to write about them! This forces me to be judicious with words and space (believe it or not), to critically think through how I might thread several disparate concepts together, and to consider how I’ll use various media to convey the heart of my message.  As informal as blogging can be, the project of maintaining a blog for a specific professional purpose becomes a formalized act that follows a distinct process, much like that of writing a research paper or article manuscript. Which brings me to what inspired this post: last night’s CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative talk with Shannon Mattern and Mark Sample.

Shannon’s presentation in particular, “Beyond the Seminar Paper: Setting New Standards for New Forms of Student Work,” gave me things to think about when it comes to my research.  While I (and many other K-12 public school teachers in NYC) have a knee-jerk reaction against the word “standards,” it was refreshing to hear someone discuss evaluation and assessment in the context of why.  It’s not that I haven’t heard other academics speak about assessment in productive, logical ways; it’s just that so much of my time as a 5th grade teacher was spent producing pretty, neatly formatted assessments because I was forced to, not because it made sense.  One year, using an informal system of notes on a post-it was the accepted form of evaluation; another year, the focus was on rubrics; our heads spun with the rapid changes that seemed episodic and disconnected to the goals of our lessons, and in the interim, the whole purpose of evaluating was lost on many of us. While Shannon has developed a series of evaluative tools along with each project she has developed with her students, it was clear from her presentation that her evaluations were not seemingly random rubrics or checklists like the ones I once compulsorily produced–her evaluations have a specific purpose, and are connected to the larger learning goals of her students’ projects.  I appreciated being a part of this conversation at the higher-ed level–particularly the part that took up questions around support for practitioners.  (And I’d like to see more spaces for conversations like this at the K-12 level.)

So what do we do if we want to use a technological tool we don’t know how to use?  What are the resources available to professionally develop your own skills as instructors–at all educational levels?  And how can the growth of our society’s do-it-yourself (DIY) culture support those endeavors?

Shannon’s talk last night touched briefly on what I hear mentioned often in professional talks lately: getting an academic job is no longer a guarantee once you get your PhD.  I feel like I’ve witnessed the development of this phenomenon first-hand over the last decade, and have to wonder at how it has paralleled the development of technology.  At age 26 (eight years ago), with but two years of teaching 5th grade under my belt, I was hired as an adjunct to teach a course called “Assessment and Evaluation” at a local university.  Not only were the students in my course teaching in grades K-12 (I’d only taught elementary school at that point), the course text (which was dictated by the department) was unbelievably dry and disconnected from most of my students’ daily work, and my students were rightfully frustrated by the course content and my teaching of it.  I had not yet developed the wisdom (which would come several years later and is still evolving) to logically develop a purposeful assessment tool that was accessible to my students and made sense for the larger goals of the project or assignment.  At the time, there were few impressive lines on my CV that related to teaching at the Masters level, and other than being an ambitious, personable young woman with lots of energy and a brightly decorated classroom, I didn’t seem qualified.  So why was I hired?  Surely it couldn’t just be because I was cheap at $2,250 per class (or thereabouts), or that I was referred by an advisor through the New York City Teaching Fellows–I still went through an interview! Was something else happening at the time?  Was it the start of what we are witnessing now, with the disappearance of full-time, tenure-track positions? What does it all have to do with the advances of technology?  I realize I’m tangenting, and again, raising threads that I will want to return to, but all of these thoughts were descending upon my brain last night as I sat and listened to Shannon and Mark talk about their work at their respective institutions. (You can read more about my K-12 teaching experience in my previous post if you’re interested.)

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about the boundary between teaching tech and teaching content–for instance, at what point does teaching how to use a blog platform detract from the content-specific point of the activity?  I appreciated that both speakers had already intimated in their respective talks that the boundary is blurry and increasingly so–that as pedagogues, we will often be required to move our technological knowledge along independently, and make use of the advances available to us whether there is a PD session to support it or not.  I admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to debating the identifiers of “digital humanities.”  It seems that technology and teaching are so inextricably linked at this point that you cannot teach without bumping into technology somewhere along the way, and vice versa.

If I had more hours in the day, I would spend time looking at how developments in letter-writing and the postal service, television, telephones, automobiles, radio, and other technologies have impacted policies and practices around teaching and learning–this tension surely existed before computers, right?  I can’t imagine the development of automobiles having had the same impact on classroom learning as computers and the internet, but I’m curious about how the education system catches up to advances that move quickly around it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and other friends and colleagues involved in the project of education.